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The Willmar 8

 

MN Women & Work Oral History Collection
Work Interpretor(s): Irene Wallin (IW) Sandi Treml (ST) Sylvia Koll (SK)
Work History: Willmar 8
Date: June 15, 1996
Time: 10:00 a.m. - 12:30 a.m.
Location: Home of Irene Wallin, Willmar, MN.
Oral History Facilitator: Renee Vaughan (RV)

Biographical Information: The Willmar 8 were an all-female labor union who initiated the first bank strike in the state of Minnesota. The women involved in this strike were not self-described feminist, laborist or even political activist. They were women who instinctively knew that what they were experiencing was unjust and they took a collective stand against it. In 1977 the Willmar 8, officially known as the Willmar Bank Employees Association, Local #1, filed charges of sexual discrimination and unfair labor practices with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the National Labor Relations Board. Their protest joined laborists and feminists, sparked heated debates, polarized a community, and inspired other workers in similar situations to take collective action. Their experiences and actions continue to serve as an inspiration to us today. “When we were picketing, you couldn’t miss a day, because you couldn’t let anyone down. The second year we started taking little breaks, but at first you couldn’t let anyone down. You just had to be there.” Sylvia Koll, member of the Willmar 8, as told to oral history facilitator, Renee Vaughan. June 15, 1996.

Subjects Discussed: The facilitators discuss local and national media coverage of their strike; the reaction of community members to the strike and to the strikers themselves; the reaction of people across the nation and worldwide; the reaction of community churches, and the reaction of unionist and feminists. They discuss their experiences with two films made about their strike; the issues and actions that led to their strike; comparisons to current workplace issues; how their involvement in the strike has changed each of them personally and professionally, work experiences since the strike, advice to women in the workplace; they discuss their strategies used during the strike, similarities and differences among the women; impact of their actions on others; EEOC involvement; women“s rights and feminism; letters of support from around the world; striking during two very cold Minnesota winters; decision making and conflict resolution between Willmar 8 members, how their actions assisted women in the workplace; how they define “winning” their suit; what they have learned through their actions and experiences.

Transcript (PDF File)